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Mumps cases rise to highest in 10 years with 'Wakefield effect' on anti-vaccine parents blamed

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Mumps cases have risen to their highest level in 10 years prompting public health officials to issue a warning about vaccinations.

There were 5,042 recorded cases of mumps in England in 2019 - four times the number in 2018 and the highest since 2009. Many of these cases were as a result of outbreaks in universities and colleges and most were in young adults who did not have the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab.

A large number of the 2019 cases were people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s who missed out on the MMR vaccine when they were children. There were also increases in mumps cases in Scotland and Wales last year.

Experts have blamed the gaps on the disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield, who in 1998 led a study that linked the MMR vaccine to autism. His work was subsequently discredited and he was struck off, but uptake of the vaccine dropped to about 80 per cent in the late 1990s and a low of 79 per cent in 2003.

What is mumps?

It is a viral infection that used to be very common in children before the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine was introduced in the UK in 1988. A classic sign is puffy cheeks under the ears. Mumps is contagious and spread through infected droplets of saliva breathed in through the mouth or nose. Symptoms include painful swelling of the glands at the side of the face, headache, fever, joint pain, feeling tired and loss of appetite. Most people usually recover without treatment. But in rare cases, there can be serious complications, such as inflammation of the testicles in males, meningitis and deafness.

The rise in cases looks set to continue this year with 546 confirmed cases in January 2020 compared to 191 during the same period in 2019. Cases of mumps consistently outnumber measles and rubella cases every year.

Public Health England (PHE) is urging people to have both parts of the MMR vaccine, saying the full two doses are needed to maximise protection. The vaccine prevents most, though not all, cases of mumps - a viral infection that used to be common in children before the introduction of the MMR vaccine.

'Hamster face'

It is most recognisable by the painful swelling of the glands at the side of the face, giving a person with mumps a distinctive "hamster face" appearance. Other symptoms include headaches, joint pain and fever, which may develop a few days before the swelling.

Olly Finch, a student at Leeds University, said: "I went to bed normal, everything fine, and then I woke up, and bang - my face was so puffed out, so swollen. I got prescribed morphine - it was that bad."

Dr Vanessa Saliba, of PHE, said it it never too late to catch up on immunisation.

"We encourage all students and young people who may have missed out on their MMR vaccine in the past to contact their GP practice and get up to date as soon as possible," she told the BBC.

Before the MMR vaccine, eight out of 10 people developed it and most of them were children of school age. Adults and children who missed out on the vaccine as babies can also have it on the NHS at any age - it is given in two doses, with the second at least a month after the first.

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